Jan De Nul Group's Trailing Suction Hopper Dredger Sanderus
Photo: Jan De Nul Group
A career at sea has never been more isolating as coronavirus measures leave many crew stranded on vessels beyond their normal contracted period. David Lutty of Jan De Nul Group, Luxembourg’s biggest maritime employer, explains.
Staying afloat in the maritime industry during the pandemic is proving challenging, says David Lutty of shipping firm Jan De Nul Group. The firm works on marine, civil construction and environmental projects around the globe. At a time when much of the world is locked down, the group is grappling with crews changes for the 1,500 or so crew on its 85 vessels.
Crew should change every six weeks, in normal times. But, when passenger flights were grounded, it became virtually impossible to repatriate staff and send out new crew, leaving many at sea for over eight weeks.
The group tackled the issue by breaking the countries it operates in down to four regions then contacting local authorities to gather and repatriate staff, a lengthy process which is fraught with bureaucracy, Lutty told Delano by phone on Monday. “It’s really a nightmare. Nothing is centralised. On a daily basis we have to find a way through this complication of crew change, getting people in or out of the country.”
Some countries have been easier than others. “In latin America we try to get people by charter to Brazil. And in Brazil we’ve normal commercial flights to bring them back to Europe,” the director explained. In Europe, crew changes were relatively smooth in the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain, unlike Poland and Lithuania, which impose a two-week quarantine on anyone entering the country. Sector spokespeople are in negotiations to request this quarantine be served on the vessels themselves, enabling work to continue, Lutty said.
The company had been able to repatriate crew working in the Middle East by working with embassies. “In Singapore and Indonesia coming in is an issue, it makes it more difficult. There we have to explain to the crew that they have to stay. It’s a matter of case by case, day by day,” he said.
The group tests all of its crew and according to Lutty, “Until now, we didn’t have any positive tests on board.” Social distancing and additional hygiene measures have been introduced on board its vessels, where crew have their own cabins.
Jan De Nul is one of around 335 shipping companies registered in Luxembourg. Despite having no direct access to the sea, the grand duchy developed this sector through dedicated corporate, operational and tax regimes. According to PwC, in 2015 the sector was responsible for 700 jobs in the grand duchy, and in 2016 it accounted for 2% of GDP.
Lutty was apprehensive about the sector’s future, faced with the impact of the pandemic. “We’re not sure what the future is. It’s a stressful situation. At the moment, it’s very difficult to predict what will be the effect on our sector,” he said.